Governor in Sudan's Darfur survives ambush: source

KHARTOUM (AFP) - The governor of Sudan's troubled North Darfur state has survived an ambush after visiting a town briefly seized by rebels, a source familiar with the incident said Sunday.

"He's OK," the source told AFP after the Saturday attack against North Darfur governor Osman Kbir, which was the latest sign of instability in the region.

It came while he was returning to the state capital El Fasher after assessing the situation in Mellit town, more than 50 kilometres north, said the source, who asked for anonymity.

There was no indication of who carried out the ambush.

The state-linked Sudanese Media Centre (SMC) reported that Kbir, accompanied by a legislative and security delegation, had visited the area but the report made no mention of an attack.

SMC is close to Sudan's security apparatus.

The official SUNA news agency on Saturday quoted Kbir as saying Mellit was "fully under control of the armed forces" after the attack by insurgents.

Mr Minni Minnawi, who heads a faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army, told AFP on Thursday that his forces had captured the town.

It was the fourth major outbreak of violence in Darfur since late February, with rebels attacking an area in the southeast and another uprising erupting in the far west, where local sources said militia loyal to Musa Hilal took control of Saraf Omra town.

Even before the Mellit incident, about 115,000 people had been displaced by violence in North Darfur and in South Darfur, according to the United Nations.

International peacekeepers said "a number of military and civilian casualties" were reported after last week's attack against a Sudanese military base in Mellit.

According to the source familiar with the incident there were "heavy losses" among paramilitary forces, but he did not have an exact number.

Mr Minnawi claimed to have killed several dozen government troops but Governor Kbir said it was the rebels who suffered heavy casualties.

The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which has a base outside Mellit, said it treated several victims, one of whom died from injuries.

Mr Christopher Cycmanick, UNAMID's acting spokesman, told AFP on Sunday that the mission has "repeatedly attempted to access Mellit town and has been denied access."

The restriction is the latest of many cited by UNAMID, despite an agreement with the government which says peacekeepers have freedom of movement.

Rebel-government battles are no longer the main source of violence in Darfur, where insurgents from black tribes began an uprising against the country's Arab elites in 2003.

Over the past two years, Sudan's deteriorating economy has led to worsening crime and intercommunal tribal clashes, a February report by UN chief Ban Ki-moon said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.